June 26, 2017

The leaked statement from the ACX Crystal's Captain is an easily disproven lie.

USS Fitzgerald (MMSI:338839000 Callsign:NFTZ)
(June 27th, 2o017 edit; punctuation, time of distress call, age of ship)
Tim Kelly of Reuters reports that Captain Ronald Advincula of the AXC Crystal 
(IMO:9360611) made a statement to the ships's owner, Dainichi Investment Corporation, in which he stated (not a direct quote of Ronald Advincula):
"The container ship steered hard to starboard (right) to avoid the warship, but hit the Fitzgerald 10 minutes later at 1:30 a.m."
-Tim Kelly, Reuters, paraphrasing the Captain of the ACX Crystal.
Tim went on to say "Reuters was not able to independently verify the account" I'm not sure if that's akin to saying he didn't have time to look it up, or they could find no evidence to support the claim. In such cases I'd really rather they say flat out that the statement is a complete fabrication based on the available evidence, as is the case here. Please review the MarineTraffic.com derived data I published on June 17th (in this blog post) and I have included below again. Each dot can be clicked on for the precise time, position, and speed of the ACX Crystal. For a blow-by-blow description of the events (as I interpret them) from the AIS data, please see my previous blog post.

From the data below it is clear to me the statement from the captain of the ACX Crystal is complete fiction, and quite possibly the actions of someone who knows they are guilty of gross negligence causing the death of 7 American sailors.  There is no missing 10 minute chunk of time before the collision at 01:30am(16:30Z); I believe his statement is completely made up to try and save his own hide.

I maintain that there is no evidence to suggest anyone was on the bridge between 01:30am(16:30Z) and 01:46am(16:46Z).  It took ~16 minutes, after the collision, for someone to turn off the autopilot and start to slow the ACX Crystal down before a hard turn to port, making a "U Turn", and heading back to the site of the collision, and making the initial distress call on behalf of the USS Fitzgerald at ~2:25am(17:25Z).

Below you have the MarineTraffic.com AIS data, on a Google Fusion Tables generated map, that you can draw your own conclusions from.  For a blow by blow description of these moments my June 17th blog post is holding up pretty well to the test of time, so far, I think.

Additional details about the ship reported by MarineLog.com confirm the captain's name, that there were 20 crew, and ship's specifications. Also of note; the ship was relatively new, built in 2008, therefore would be outfitted with modern navigational radar and communications systems. I mention this because there's such a variety of ships on the sea, it's worth noting this is one of the more modern ship, not an old rusty hulk with a consumer-grade GPS leaning on the window.

June 17, 2017

Mapping the ACX Crystal's collision with the USS Fitzgerald using publicly available info

USS Fitzgerald (MMSI:338839000 Callsign:NFTZ)
(2017.06.17 edit)
Per the USNavy's 7th Fleet public affairs office;
USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) was involved in a collision with a merchant vessel at approximately 2:30 a.m. local time, June 17, while operating about 56 nautical miles southwest of Yokosuka, Japan.

The merchant vessel was the Filipino-flagged ACX Crystal container-ship (IMO:9360611) and she did have her AIS transponder on at the time of the incident.

From the news footage below you'll notice an area of severe damage which looks to me to be from an impact at a perpendicular angle, and not a grazing strike, since there is no scraping or dragging down the length of the USS Fitzgerald. I'm not suggesting the impact was deliberate, only that the vessels would have deflected if they had hit with a glancing strike, where to me it looks like the bow of the Crystal embedded itself for a short period in the USS Fitzgerald. I originally thought the USS Fitzgerald was stationary before the impact, but I've since changed my mind, since I've been told that there would be no operational reason to be stationary near an area of high traffic, on a moonless night. Valid point. Then if she wasn't stationary, why was she crossing the path of the shipping lane and how didn't they notice the 30,000 Ton ship on a collision course with them?

Here is the MarineTraffic.com animation of the entire collision:

I have provided a Google Fusion map below, and linked to the original source data that might be useful to you if you want to do a deeper investigation into the original story yourself.

The data looks a little confusing, so watch the video to get an idea of how the strike happened. The colour coding is to show the speeds of the ACX Crystal when moving. Red is almost stopped, Green is full speed ahead.

From a discussion with JJ I think the UTC/JST conversion may have been messed up, or the reported time by the US Navy and Japanese Coast Guard was not representative of the time of the collision, only when the collision was reported.  I doubt anyone in the US military would mix up time zones, since they're very accurate regarding time. The US Navy press release reports the incident happened at 2:30am "LOCAL TIME", which is Japan Standard Time or JST, and which is UTC+9.  The AIS data I scraped from MarineTraffic.com shows accurate to-the-second (or less) data, so that is what I can rely on for accuracy. Could the ACX Crystal have hit the USS Fitzgerald at full speed just before 16:30Z, rather than ~17:30Z as the US Navy said in their press release? I think so.  With that in mind, watch the video again.  Did the ACX Crystal strike the USS Fitzgerald while on a 70 degree course before 16:30Z, then while on autopilot, correct itself after the USS Fitzgerald was knocked free?  If so, it took another hour for the crew to figure out what happened, turn the ACX Crystal around, and return to the USS Fitzgerald - it's unclear if they even knew what they struck.  JJ suggested maybe the time the accident was called in was ~2:30am JST, but the strike had happened earlier. This makes significant sense to me, and explains the "U turn" they performed, especially if you realize the impact was one 30 minutes before the u-turn.

AIS Data

Timestamp (UTC)SourceSpeed (kn)LatitudeLongitudeCourse
2017-06-16 16:19 (UTC)Terr-AIS18.134.5037139.00869
2017-06-16 16:21 (UTC)Terr-AIS18.434.50739139.020870
2017-06-16 16:24 (UTC)Terr-AIS18.434.51177139.035870
2017-06-16 16:27 (UTC)Terr-AIS18.534.51718139.05470
2017-06-16 16:30 (UTC)Terr-AIS17.334.52216139.072388
2017-06-16 16:33 (UTC)Terr-AIS11.234.51329139.0761135
2017-06-16 16:36 (UTC)Terr-AIS14.634.50962139.0878118
2017-06-16 16:38 (UTC)Terr-AIS13.134.5119139.094441
2017-06-16 16:40 (UTC)Terr-AIS15.334.51949139.104370
2017-06-16 16:43 (UTC)Terr-AIS15.234.52352139.114556
2017-06-16 16:46 (UTC)Terr-AIS15.434.52807139.122656

Those who know my blog will not be disapointed; of course I want to show you the minute-by-minute account of the ACX Crystal's journey and try and tease out what we can from it. Above you have the AIS data from what I believe covers the entire horrific event, and the ACX Crystal leaving the scene of the collision. Yes. LEAVING the scene, only to return an hour later. I'll get back to that.  I believe this shows that 1) nobody was on the bridge of the Crystal and 2) "Iron Mike" was in controls for a full 15min *after* the collision; see item 1.  There have been no reports that any distress call went out until after the ACX Crystal came back at 17:30Z, an hour after the collision.

Some people hate analogies, but here's one anyway.  If you were in the driver seat of a self-driving car, hit another car, and your self-driving car kept driving along the road... how long would it take you to hit the off button?  Well, it took the crew of the Crystal, who I'm positive were not on the bridge, 15 minutes to find the autopilot off button.  Either they were very disoriented by the impact, or they weren't on the bridge to begin with, and had to get up to the bridge in order to shut down the autopilot.

All is well, the ship is on a 70° course, sailing at a fast 18.5kn.

Course has changed +18°, speed dropped slightly, 1.2kn. The collision has likely already happened

Course is now +65° off original, and speed is down to 11.2kn.  Something is clearly wrong, the collision has likely happened, and the 30,000ton container ship has been spun 65° off course by the impact or thrust of the USS Fitzgerald's engines.

It gets weirder. Speed is back up to 14.6kn, and the ship is coming back on course, now "only" +48° off her original course.  Did the ACX Crystal spear the USS Fitzgerald, and just shake it off? That's right, after smashing into another ship, the 30,000 ton container ship is swinging around and increasing speed.  If anyone was at the helm, this would not be happening.

ACX Crystal has now swung around in 2 minutes to a course of 41°, -22° off the original course, and is seemingly trying to correct its course toward her original destination.  Almost like nobody is at the helm, and the ship is being controlled by Iron Mike (the autopilot)

Course corrected, back on a heading of 70°, speed is up to 15.3kn, and the ship is steaming away from the accident. It's been ten minutes since the collision, and nobody has disengaged the autopilot yet.  How do I know? Because they haven't reduced speed or turned around.

16:43Z, 16:46Z
Course corrections, but still no slowing down, now up to 15.4kn. How far are the crew quarters from the bridge on that ship?

Timestamp (UTC)SourceSpeed (kn)LatitudeLongitudeCourse
2017-06-16 16:49 (UTC)Terr-AIS1434.53545139.14373
2017-06-16 16:52 (UTC)Terr-AIS12.934.53923139.157270
2017-06-16 16:55 (UTC)Terr-AIS12.234.54282139.16862
2017-06-16 16:58 (UTC)Terr-AIS12.334.5469139.177863
2017-06-16 17:00 (UTC)Terr-AIS12.434.55079139.187162
2017-06-16 17:03 (UTC)Terr-AIS11.934.55532139.197664
2017-06-16 17:06 (UTC)Terr-AIS7.634.56187139.199305
2017-06-16 17:09 (UTC)Terr-AIS9.434.56249139.1927263
2017-06-16 17:11 (UTC)Terr-AIS1034.56231139.1911261
2017-06-16 17:14 (UTC)Terr-AIS12.434.5595139.172260
2017-06-16 17:18 (UTC)Terr-AIS12.934.55806139.1623260
2017-06-16 17:20 (UTC)Terr-AIS13.734.55479139.1448256
2017-06-16 17:24 (UTC)Terr-AIS14.134.5519139.1302255
2017-06-16 17:26 (UTC)Terr-AIS14.434.54954139.12254
2017-06-16 17:29 (UTC)Terr-AIS14.634.54608139.1029259
2017-06-16 17:33 (UTC)Terr-AIS1334.54381139.0875260
2017-06-16 17:35 (UTC)Terr-AIS11.734.54243139.0776259
2017-06-16 17:38 (UTC)Terr-AIS9.934.53842139.0665243

While the ship has slowed to just under 13kn, it still hasn't turned around.

The Crystal is turning hard and has slowed somewhat.

The Crystal has turned completely around and is doing ~13kn toward the location where they hit "something".  I don't think anyone aboard the ACX Crystal knows by this point what they hit. There are no reports that any distress calls by this time.  There has been no suggestion they called the Japanese Coast Guard by this time for any information either. What did they think they hit?

Over an hour after the initial collision. The US Navy reported the accident happened around this time. I believe what they meant was the distress call was received by the Japanese Coast Guard around this time, because it would be unthinkable that you, a 30,000 ton container ship, would collide with another ship, and not mention it to the Coast Guard, for an hour?

Timestamp (UTC)SourceSpeed (kn)LatitudeLongitudeCourse
2017-06-16 17:52 (UTC)Terr-AIS2.934.52554139.055590
2017-06-16 17:56 (UTC)Terr-AIS3.234.52657139.058759
2017-06-16 18:00 (UTC)Terr-AIS3.234.52952139.0609354
2017-06-16 18:02 (UTC)Terr-AIS434.53196139.0605352
2017-06-16 18:06 (UTC)Terr-AIS434.53695139.060212
2017-06-16 18:11 (UTC)Terr-AIS3.934.54041139.063849
2017-06-16 18:15 (UTC)Terr-AIS3.934.5432139.06839
2017-06-16 18:18 (UTC)Terr-AIS3.734.54664139.0684330
2017-06-16 18:23 (UTC)Terr-AIS4.834.54985139.0638309
2017-06-16 18:25 (UTC)Terr-AIS5.234.55213139.0606305
2017-06-16 18:28 (UTC)Terr-AIS4.934.55527139.0573339
2017-06-16 18:36 (UTC)Terr-AIS134.56038139.0575
2017-06-16 18:41 (UTC)Terr-AIS0.434.56104139.0567296
2017-06-16 18:43 (UTC)Terr-AIS0.534.56106139.0564266
2017-06-16 18:47 (UTC)Terr-AIS0.934.561139.0554270
2017-06-16 18:57 (UTC)Terr-AIS2.434.5608139.055692
2017-06-16 19:00 (UTC)Terr-AIS3.434.56094139.058384
2017-06-16 19:03 (UTC)Terr-AIS434.5612139.061882

17:52Z onward
There is a 14 minute gap that I can't explain, did they turn off AIS?
From this time forward, regular updates keep coming in at 2-3min intervals.  Speed and course changes seem to suggest they were looking for survivors or trying to otherwise assist.

In conclusion I have absolutely no idea what happened out there; I'm trying to think through the story with the available evidence and string it together.  By my understanding of the events I believe there was nobody on the bridge of he ACX Crystal at the time of the collision, and for ~15 minutes afterwards showed no signs of being manned with anyone on the bridge as the course auto-corrected, and increased speed, moving way from the impact site, trying to come back up to the original speed. The damage on the bow, below the water line, slowed the ship down from it's original 18kn due to drag.  Knowing when the Japanese Coast Guard was called is a detail that has not been revealed yet, and we all know there's a recording of it out there somewhere.

I'll update as I find out more, or more evidence is revealed.

For updates on the situation follow the 7th Fleet on Twitter, or check their webpage for updates: http://www.c7f.navy.mil/Media/News/

June 09, 2017

Tracking US Navy nuclear submarines using publicly available information

US Navy official photo (exact credit unknown)
US Navy official web page (Screenshot 2017-06-09)
The purpose of the secrecy around the locations of US Navy SSNs, SSGNs, and SSBNs is operational security; OPSEC.  You don't want to tell an adversary where the submarines are, so you don't jeopardize their mission.  The safety of those submarines, and their submariners, is of paramount importance to everyone. My objective in highlighting the following is to raise awareness that the supposed secrecy surrounding those deployments does not to hide their area of deployment from the Chinese Navy, North Korean Navy, or the Russian Navy; it hides or obfuscates their deployments from the collective knowledge of the American people, who happen to pay for the US Navy though their taxes. The technique I'm going to show you suggests that they are not hiding, and know it. I speculate they are not spoken openly about for political, rather than OPSEC, reasons.

The US Navy themselves post to official US Navy web pages and social media about US Navy submarine deployments; the screenshots embedded are proof of that, in case you hadn't noticed these posts before, or are not following the US Navy on social media.  Unlike the leaks to Fox News from Pentagon sources and other news organisations around the positions of the Russian Navy AGI Viktor Leonov, which were derived from US Navy intelligence sources and clearly Secret, if not Top Secret, these are public displays of the US Navy's ability to project power to the other side of the globe. The transponders being on, and the press releases, are all shows of force.

US Navy official Twitter account (posted 2017-06-07)
I do not want anyone to think the transponders on these subs are being used naively or in any incompetent fashion by the US Navy, or they're "forgetting" that they turn them on and off; all of this is extremely well known by the commanding officer of the submarine and the rest of the crew. The decisions related to who to tell or not tell in the public sphere are solely made at the Pentagon.  Submarines are stealthy by nature, and have the capability to remain hidden for an extended trip into hostile waters; that these submarines are turning up on AIS indicates the US Navy feels it doesn't have to hide these particular submarines at these specific times.  You'll notice very few SSBN "Boomers" on the list, since they do not show up very often at all; their areas of operation are more secret than the attack submarines. I presume this difference is directly related to their vital role in the nuclear triad; they must stay hidden.  This difference again demonstrates it isn't that the US Navy can't keep a secret, SSN deployments just aren't universally as secret as they may seem to be.

locations where US Navy submarines have last beaconed using AIS-T
(screenshot 2017-06-09 MarineTraffic.com)
Much like the NORAD interceptions of Russian Long Range Aviation flights, or Russian Open Skies Treaty overflights of the United States, the military is under no obligation to share information about these operations with the public, and by policy doesn't.  NORAD does not announce when they intercept Russian Long Range Aviation flights; the only time you hear them on the news is when information is leaked by someone (read: officials at the Pentagon). The USAF doesn't announce when Russian Open Skies Treaty overflights are going on.  Those flights are not secret, as evidenced by their transponders being on, and as they are announced in advance in the Russian news media.  Again, the silence is political.

The following spreadsheet should help you match the Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI), which the submarine transponder identifies itself as, with the true name of the submarine. They usually identify themselves with a generic name like "submarine" or "us submarine"; with a little data aggregation we can fix that.  Special thanks to @lala_zet (どうもありがとうございました) who posted their MMSI / name correlations as well. The MMSI-name correlations I didn't have, I copied, and the ones I had previously, I was able to confirm.

Some of the below, but not all, can be tracked on MarineTraffic.com, if this interests you.